Guest blog by Michael Seal who secured a place on the Teach First Leadership Development Programme for when he graduated from LSE this year:
First, if you’ve already made it to an assessment centre, congratulations! You’ve clearly impressed the employer and should take pride in making it this far.
All assessment centres are different, and often require different specialist tasks that are relevant to the role in question, though almost all will have a one-to-one interview and some kind of group exercise. So, having been through these myself a few times, I’ll share what knowledge I can:
- Thoroughly research the organisation beforehand. Understand its values, and what competencies the assessors are looking for. If these competencies are not stated or explained explicitly then consider what you might need in order to succeed in the assessment centre and the role in question. Have a recent, relevant example prepared for each competency. If possible, they should be diverse: from your personal, professional and academic life.
- Use the STAR structure in your answers: Situation, Task, Action, Result.
- Pay attention to the question so as not to stray from what is being asked, then answer it clearly, confidently and concisely.
- Don’t forget that the interviewer isn’t trying to catch you out; they’re looking for a good fit and want you to be it. So if you’re struggling to understand the question, ask for clarification. If you need a minute to think through your answer, then it’s completely appropriate to ask for it.
- Think of something to ask the interviewer at the end (make sure it’s not information readily available to you, as this shows you haven’t researched the organisation, and suggests a lack of commitment or desire for the role). In my interview I asked about the interviewer’s personal experience of a specific part of the programme.
- Make sure you understand the instructions clearly and comprehensively before you start (you’ll usually be given plenty of time to do this).
- If you feel comfortable doing so, volunteer to manage the time or take on some other responsibility. With timings, visibly take note and gently remind everyone at key milestones.
- Offer constructive ideas and contribute to the conversation, but remember that it is often not just the strength of your ideas that’s being assessed. In fact, more often than not, it is the way you communicate your ideas and demonstrate other key competencies that assessors are focusing on.
- Listen carefully to other people, make eye contact, and display proactive body language. Sometimes picking out a key point from something someone has said and complimenting or building on it is great because it shows you were listening and that you understood. It also builds good relationships and support for a consensus, and demonstrates leadership.
- If someone is less involved, try to bring them into the conversation. Join up what is being said with anything they have contributed, ask them what they think, or invite them to speak in any appropriate way.
Finally, a competency that is looked for across all kinds of roles, and is surely useful in countless working environments, is the ability to reflect. At the assessment centre for the Teach First Leadership Development Programme I was asked to reflect on some of the exercises I completed. I found this a great opportunity to acknowledge the improvements I could have made and demonstrate a mature response to any mis-steps in my performance.
So that’s it. Good luck! I’m sure you’ll be great!